Once upon a time, a talented trio of young, female musicians from Texas ruled country radio’s airwaves.
Their songs brought welcome vibrancy to a staid, formulaic genre, and audiences responded with enthusiasm. The Dixie Chicks were the biggest thing since Garth Brooks, possessing equal crossover appeal that assured chart-topping hits and sold-out concert venues not just in the United States, but around the world.
It was at one such concert in London, in 2003, that Natalie Maines, the group’s lead singer, manifested a degree of political moxy that proved the Dixie Chicks were country artists of a truly different stripe.
Responding to the outrages of the Bush administration, particularly its incessant warmongering, Ms. Maines proclaimed that she was ashamed to share Texas residency with the man who, in time, virtually all of us would finally have to concede is the worst president America has ever known.
What followed was a punishment of epic proportions.
Country music’s reactionary, uber-patriotic base abruptly turned on the group that had, just the day before, been its darlings. The worst U.S. blacklist/boycott since the McCarthy era came down hard on the Dixie Chicks.
Country radio stations across the land refused to play their work. Their videos disappeared from music television’s programming. Natalie Maines became the new Jane Fonda to right-wing talk broadcasters.
Hatred snowballed, eventually leading to death threats.
Through it all, the Dixie Chicks persevered, enduring a stinging, potentially career-killing backlash of the terrible sort that took so many progressive entertainers from glorious fame to utter obscurity during the Cold War fifties.
They remained strong. They kept making music.
Meanwhile, George Bush’s escalating villainy came to so offend the American public, including many country fans who originally boycotted the Dixie Chicks, that his popularity sank to unprecedented, abysmal levels.
Times were changing.
Then, in 2006, the Dixie Chicks released “Not Ready to Make Nice,” which was a fierce reiteration of their defiance, tinged with awareness that history was about to absolve them.
It went to VH1’s number one spot, and remained there much longer than any other previous video.
At the 2007 Grammy Awards, honoring the best in recorded music, “Not Ready to Make Nice” garnered Song of the Year and Record of the Year recognition. Their “Taking the Long Way” was named Album of the Year (as well as Country Album of the Year).
Their repeated trips to the podium to accept the award show’s trademark gramophone statuettes were greeted with not only applause and cheers, but clenched fists and peace signs as well.
Three women from Texas, who spoke truth to power and would not knuckle under, are heroes and role models for us all.
If each of us takes just a part of their strength to fight on for what’s right and just, our collective power to realize change will be unstoppable.
We’ll go on to live in a far better world where, among other things, good people with kind hearts will appreciatively smile whenever anyone mentions the gifted, courageous singers and players who helped take us to the wide open spaces of fresh possibility.
Natalie, Emily, and Martie...thanks.
Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior, Wisconsin, has been writing progressive commentary with a Heartland perspective for various outlets since the Sixties.